Gay Pride and Prejudice

For three days I’ve been trying to write something. I’ve been sitting in my apartment, not particularly busy on the weekend, trying to think of something to say about the most recent events in Israel. But the truth is, I’m speechless. I have no words. But just because I have no words doesn’t mean I can sit back and say nothing. So I’m going to try and put words to my feelings. Bear with me.

I’m going to address two main events that happened in the past few days in Israel: 1) On Thursday, six people were stabbed at the Pride March, and 2) early Friday morning two Palestinian homes were set on fire and as a result four family members were hospitalized and a baby died.  It’s horrifying enough just to read the headlines without thinking too deeply about it. But unfortunately both of those events comes in a context of a long and painful history, spattering more blood on the already stained pages.

The Jerusalem Pride Parade is one of my favorite things that happens in my city. Obviously I agree with what it stands for – the protest demanding equal rights under the law. I also just like being there. I feel safe there. I feel like I belong. Forget the fact that I identify as Bisexual – that’s the B in LGBT – it’s a place where everyone feels like they belong. Even if you are straight, female, single, socially awkward, none of those things matter at Pride. Pride is all about feeling good about who you are. For a few hours once a year, people who are bullied and discriminated against can finally feel normal and accepted. We can finally feel safe. On Thursday someone burst into that bubble and took away the safety of thousands. Not just the people he stabbed. Not just the people who were at the parade. He took away the safety of every religious, closeted LGBT person in the city. He gave a voice to all the hatred that is harbored towards LGBTs everywhere and especially within the Orthodox communities in Israel.

I was flipping through the comments on one of the articles discussing this event. I saw several comments insinuating that Israelis are a savage, blood-thirsty nation who just kill everyone we hate: Palestinians, gays, etc. I spent some time being patriotic and defending my people on the internet, only to wake up the following morning to the news about the Palestinian homes burned down.  I wasn’t shocked. It’s happened before. I just couldn’t help think about all those anti-Israeli commenters on the internet who had just been proven right. My insides squirmed at the notion that someone who identifies with the same nationality as I do would commit such a heinous act as burning a baby. This time the media was full of lots of posts talking about how the Jewish faith condemns any type of murder, and people who stab at the Pride parade or who kill anyone “aren’t really Jews.”

Except that they are Jews. And they are Israelis. And the world is looking at us now, in this moment, watching us cast off this act as the doings of a couple of crazy fanatics. Maybe it’s true – maybe it’s really only a handful of crazies committing these crimes. But as Brigitte Gabriel wisely said, “The peaceful majority are irrelevant.” It only took a handful of crazy fanatics to bring the twin towers to the ground.

But as a friend of mine said, there’s a reason these radicals attacked Palestinians, and not Russians, for example. There is a reason the stabber went to Gay Pride instead of going after red heads. The reason is that our culture tolerates hate.

Maybe instead of saying “they’re not really Jews” or “they got Judaism wrong,” it is time for us to take responsibility for the actions of our brethren and take a look at what messages in our culture could have led to this kind of violence. Maybe it’s time to just stop and say, we’re sorry. We screwed up. And now we are going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  For example, our politicians are now going to refrain from making racist and homophobic comments, even in jest. Our schools are going to stop tolerating racist teachings and ideas in the classroom. Our rabbis are going to stop giving legitimacy to discrimimation against gays. Our country is now going to catch up with the rest of the modern world and finally pass marriage equality. Those would be some nice places to start.

So, in the name of all Israelis and all Jews everywhere, I’m sorry. We’re sorry. To the Palestinians and the family of sweet baby Ali, we’re sorry. I know it’s not enough and will never be enough. But I’m saying it because I want you to know that there are people in this country and in this world who reject hate and condemn violence of any kind. We are sorry. We screwed up and we hurt you.

To my brothers and sisters at Jerusalem Pride, we are sorry. We screwed up. We let too much homophobia settle into our culture. Don’t let it discourage you even for a moment. Keep Pride alive.

That’s all for now. Wishing everybody that the month of August may bring upon us a time of love and peace and coexistence and harmony. Alla yisalmakum.

Liora Sophie.

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An Open Letter To Ramatcal Gadi Eizenkot

To: Gadi Eizenkot

Chief of Staff of Israel Defense Forces

May 1st, 2015

Dear Gadi,

I am an Israeli student of mathematics at Hebrew University, and I am writing to you because there is a cause to which I believe you can make a great difference. As a leader, in a position of power, your word stands to influence many. You have the privilege of being the head of one of the strongest armies in the world.

The women of Israel want to serve in the army. We are honored to represent our country and give our time and knowledge to it. We are proud to be a part of such an important body in the state of Israel.

I know that the military is a difficult setting for women. At the moment, however, enlisting is mandatory for women in Israel, and if you want women to serve, the army needs to be a safe place for us. Right now, it is not.

May Fatal’s story came to illustrate that. The responses her post received were mind boggling. The idea that pictures of her in a bathing suit could have anything to do with her sexual assault is a fallacy which was debunked decades ago. She is the victim, it was not her fault. She was not asking for it. It was not consensual. Women do not choose to be violated once by a man and then again by the media and the internet world in order to tell a lie. We only would do that to tell the truth.

I implore you, Mr. Eizenkot, to come out with a statement which condemns the assault of May Fatal and take a strong stance against sexual harassment in the army. You can make a difference. You can help make the IDF a safe place for women to be. Simply by telling the world that you do not believe the victim is at fault, by telling the IDF soldiers that there is someone who will support them if they are assaulted, and most importantly, that men care about women, and want them to feel safe, you can change the world.

Please do.

Awaiting your reply,

Liora Sophie

Citizen of Israel since 1999

To You, With Love From A Fellow Human

To the invaluable human soul behind the screen reading my words,

I want to talk to you about this week. Sunday the semester starts, and that’s not enough time to recover from the emotional impact of this week’s events. It’s not fair. Yesterday, a crazy person killed a baby with a car. Today, both Jews and Arabs threw rocks at each other. We’re all upset. Nobody can focus. It’s a terrible, horrible situation.

I want you to know that no matter what you think, no matter who you are, I feel your pain. Because pain is not something which belongs on any side of the political spectrum. Pain is human. As are all of us. So why can’t we stand together, hold hands, comfort each other?

If you’ll stick with me for just a moment longer, I’d like to share with you some beautiful words I heard from a speaker about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict several weeks ago. His name is Ali abu Awwad. It begins with the definition of hope.

“Hope is a place where people create, not just expect,” he says.

Ali Abu Awwad preaches non-violent action. Take action, but not violent action. His first experience of this concept was participating in a 17-day hunger strike in prison, as a protest against the separation of families inside the prison. He wanted to be reunited with his mother. This kind of action, he says is something powerful – it’s fighting with your humanity, more than violence, more than your political rights. “Non violence is to be an artist for your humanity.”

What is the most powerful tool of non-violent action? “Non-violent action causes the other side to see their own actions.” It creates a mirror for your opponent, rather than fueling his violence. “By not giving legitimacy to their violence, you create a safe place for them to give up.”

At 31, Ali’s brother was violently killed by an IDF soldier. The pain of loss and mourning led Ali to realize that there is no revenge good enough. Taking the life of another person can not ease the pain and will not bring back his brother. What keeps a person who has lost something so huge from turning into a murderer? Ali says that even though he lost his brother, his dreams, his land, and his rights, one thing he didn’t lose – his mind. When his brother was killed, a group of bereaved Israelis asked to come and meet his mother. For the first time in his life, Ali witnessed an Israeli person cry.

Israelis can cry? He asked himself. He was shocked. Before this incident he couldn’t imagine that Israelis could cry.

And what about forgiveness? How can you forgive someone for killing your brother? But Ali says he learned about forgiveness from a Sount African mother who told him, “Forgiveness is not giving up your right to justice, but giving up your just right to revenge.

It couldn’t be more clear that Ali does not believe war is any kind of solution. “Palestinian freedom has to go through Israeli hearts, not bodies.” He impresses the interdependence of the two nations by saying, “If Israel is not secure, Palestineans will never have freedom – but if Palestine doesn’t have freedom, Israel will never have security.”

And since then, he’s been an activist for Palestinian rights. He marches and speaks in favor of non violent action. One incident he told of stood out to me. When speaking at an Israeli school in the West Bank, one of the students, a nineteen year old, called him “a babboon.” Ali flattened him with heart-piercing dialogue, appealing to his humanity and commanding his respect. The student fell silent and later approached him, apologizing for his words and admitting that he had never met a Palestinian before. “I never imagined Palestinians had feelings.”

Do you see the striking parallel in these two stories? Each is a tale of a human experience, a raw encounter with our more basic instincts and our ability to overcome them in order to be civilized. Each tells about a person who had never met someone so different from them, but then learned that the other is human just as they are.

Ok, time to wrap things up. I just want to say to my friends at school, my neighbors in the dormitories, my friends in the West Bank and my friends far away in the United States and everywhere, at the end of the day, we’re all human, we can all cry, and that’s okay….

I’m going to leave you with a final quote from Ali, about what he sees as the definition of peace:

“Peace is the courage to engage in each other’s rights.”

Much love and wishes for a quiet weekend,

Liora Sophie

Why We Need Pride In Jerusalem

Too many people have asked me that question, so here’s your answer.

I am so incredibly proud to be a resident of Jerusalem right now. For one shining moment, no matter who you are – gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, pan, in, out, religious, secular, in between…for one moment you can just live in a bubble of freedom and acceptance. If you are at the parade you are cool by definition. For one blissful afternoon you can live your life without fear of judgment, discrimination, and violence. You can walk through the streets of this holy city and be totally free.

But here’s the catch: One afternoon every year or two is not enough. We march because we have the guts to expect more than that.

Before I go on about how much fun the parade was, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions about the event itself. Some people feel that the Pride Parade is not appropriate in Jerusalem, the holy city. I’d like to clarify why I believe that there is no place more appropriate than Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

  1. A religious man marches wearing a Gay Pride flag with Star of David, a mix of Pride and the Israeli flag.

     Inappropriate dress. This is not true for the Jerusalem Pride Parade. Out of 3,000 people, there were only two men who were not wearing shirts. And a male to female transgender in a dress does not count as cross dressing.

  2. Public Display of Affection. Again, out of 3,000 people I saw one couple kissing and a few couples holding hands. Yeah, PDA is gross! But straight PDA is not any less gross than gay PDA.

  3. It’s a secular event. In case you aren’t familiar with the demographics of Jerusalem, a large percentage of the population here are religious Jews / Christians / Muslims / Other. The Pride Parade was packed with kippas and tzitzit, skirts and hair coverings – our symbols of a religious lifestyle. Some of them are out of the closet religious people, some are straight supporters. There were far too many religious people at the parade to say that it is not relevant in a largely religious city.

  4. It’s a sex parade. It’s not. In Jerusalem, it’s a protest. We march for social change. We march because we deserve to live a life without violence, discrimination at work or anywhere else. We deserve health and marriage equality. And we’re not going to get those things by sitting down and being quiet.

In case you still aren’t convinced, let me address a specific moment of the parade. As we marched down Ramban street – which borders on a mainly religious neighborhood but does not go through it – somebody threw a stink bomb. I have to admit I was impressed. It seems like it would take quite a lot of premeditation and preparation to do such a thing. It seems like an enormous amount of energy to waste on hating someone. I’m glad to report that the person who did it was arrested while the parade was still going on, and what a shame, in the end he just stank up his own street.

Seriously, though. It wasn’t as if we didn’t know that was coming. It’s not the first time that has happened. Don’t you think it takes a good deal of courage and purpose to walk down the roads when you know you could be hit by a bag of someone else’s crap? So it smelled a little bad. It stopped no one. The parade marched on. Honestly, what’s a little stink bomb to the LGBT community, who endures far worse on a daily basis?

With that in mind, let’s not forget that a lot of people who march in the parade are not L, G, B, T or Q, but they recognize that this is a protest for human rights. The needs of the LGBT community are relevant to straight people as well. Because bullying and violence, discrimination based on race or gender, hate crimes, equality in health care and marriage are issues that hit every one of us close to home, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

So next year, pick a basic human right you feel you need, make a rainbow colored sign and come march with us. And if you feel you enjoy complete freedom and full human rights, come get your face painted and stand up for someone who doesn’t.

There Exists vs. For All – Math and Racism

I make generalizations by accident sometimes. I think everyone does. It’s just a habit we have of not being accurate when talking about other people.

One of the most basic principles of mathematics – logic, specifically – is the difference between “there exists” and “for all/every.” For example,

1. There exists a solution to the equation x+2=5

2. Every natural number is either even or odd.

The first statement tells us that something exists – but we only know of one number with that property. It would be silly to say that every number solves the equation. The second statement tells us something about all the natural numbers in the world – that even if we go on to infinity, we will never find a number which is neither even nor odd, or both at the same time.

I understand that logic theory is not a perfect analogy for our world since there is little room for grey areas. However, it still has a lot to teach us about our environment and society. The idea of political correctness is all about defining our statements in a more exact way. Often in everyday life we confuse “there exists” with “every,” and I want to argue that this miscalculation leads us to racism.

Here are some examples:

1. All Israelis are racist
2. All Arabs are terrorists
3. All Americans are rich (we have a big problem with that one here)
4. All Ethiopians are illiterate

All of These statements are wrong.

The four statements above are sentences which people have said to me. As sad as it is, I’m not making these up out of my own head. Let’s take a moment and look at some other ways to write the above statements

1. “There exist Israelis which are not racist.” (logical inverse) This is already a much more accurate statement, because we know there are Israelis which are not racist. Instead of saying “all” we should have said “there exist.” On the other hand, saying “There exist Israelis which are racist” gives the most accurate, much more intelligent sounding and much less judgmental statement, and it says the same thing as the original one: There’s racism in Israel, and I think it’s not cool.

2. “There exist Arabs which are not terrorists.” This one should be modified even further to the statement “There exist terrorists which are Arabs.” It’s deeper than “Not all Arabs are terrorists” – being a terrorist has nothing to do with being Arab! There are also terrorists which are Japanese and American. It’s terrible but it doesn’t mean that if you are American you have an increased chance of becoming a terrorist.

3. “There exist Americans that are not rich.” Sadly, most of the way Israelis are exposed to American culture is through television (similar to how Americans mostly see Israeli society through CNN). They watch shows like How I Met Your Mother, Glee and (God forbid) the Disney channel, and let’s face it – there’s not a lot of poverty on TV. It’s easy to look around and see that some people walked here from Ethiopia with the shirt on their back while Americans mostly take a 12 hour flight with two suitcases each. Regardless, the statement should still be “There exist Americans that are rich.” Because we know nothing about how many will be rich once we get infinity of them.

4.

“There exist Ethiopians that can read.” I sincerely thought we were done discriminating based on skin color, but it turns out the problem is still deep within us. Lots of people immigrate to Israel from Ethiopia, and just as with any group of new immigrants, the people who already live here find them strange, different, and “uneducated,” which just means they are culturally different. The statement is false because there are enough Ethiopians who are literate that if you meet one, it is wrong to assume they aren’t. Some have grown up here, served in the IDF and attended universities. Frankly, making a generalization based on skin color makes you look like the one who’s illiterate.

Everywhere we go there are people who are afraid of someone who’s different. But even that statement only implies the existence of two of these people. It is crucial to be exact when we speak of others, not to confuse “alls” with “exists” because we don’t have the ability to know what goes on when there is an infinite amount of people. Only then will it be perfectly okay to say “All.”

Bridges, Walls, and Leadership

“There was a large crowd of people…They were throwing things and shouting…”

This is not a quote from the Women of the Wall, but it might as well be. I was killing time on Facebook yesterday when I read this status update:

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and it reminded me of something from a children’s book I used to love when I was a little girl, “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles . In the book, he describes how Ruby Bridges,  six year old African American girl was volunteered to be one of the first children to attend a white school. In the quote she describes walking to school, escorted by police men, through the crowds of protesters shouting and throwing things. One morning, her teacher watches through the window while Ruby stops in the middle of the crowd and refuses to move for several minutes. “I saw you talking,” Mrs. Henry told her later when Ruby finally agreed to enter the school building. “I wasn’t talking,” said Ruby, “I was praying.”

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Ruby was six years old at the time. She was the only black girl in a school full of white children with angry parents, and somehow she found it inside her to pray for the people who crowded around and shouted and threw things at her. And thank goodness that she did that. Thank goodness that she kept going with the police men every day even though so many people tried to silence her. In the end, she paved the road for integration in schools. Eventually she was able to go to school without being accompanied by police.

I loved The Story of Ruby Bridges. She was like a hero to me. I even used her character once in a project in ceramics, because to me she was proof that great leadership can come in any size or color. And that is what the Women of the Wall show young girls all over the world.

Thank goodness that the Women of the Wall refuse to be silenced. Thank goodness that despite all the people who try to discourage them, they keep fighting. I hope that soon we can see them going to pray at the Wall without being escorted by the police. The Story of Ruby Bridges teaches us that equality and tolerance will triumph in the end. And boy will that be awkward for the people on the other side.

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